Zee Bangla Cinema, the Bengali movie channel of the Zee network, introduced a new logo and graphics package on Saturday (24 September) night during the premiere of Aparajito, shortly after completing its tenth anniversary on the previous day — though it has not mentioned anything about the actual anniversary. The logo now has the words Bangla Cinema written in a single line, instead of two lines as before, while the new graphics are orange and pink with dotted textures and a glowing ring. The channel has introduced the slogan Hok Na Ektu Magic (Let a little magic happen), which may bring to mind Movies.Masti.Magic, the longtime slogan of its Hindi counterpart Zee Cinema until 2019.
Adding to its significance, Bengalis are celebrating Mahalaya, the start of the Durga Puja celebrations, on Sunday. With that in mind, below we touch upon how the Bengali TV industry has changed in the ten years since ZBC was launched, and why it and most other Bengali TV channels struggle to compete against Star Jalsha and Zee Bangla, which are the leaders of the pack by a large distance. But it is not all doom and gloom for ZBC, because despite its low ratings and lack of an HD feed, it serves an important role in the Bengali TV landscape — as it has done for a decade.
ZBC’s rebrand marks ten years since several events shaped the Bengali TV industry in 2012
A brief history lesson: Zee Bangla Cinema, launched on 23 September 2012 with the slogan Jiban Ekhon Superhit (Life is Now Superhit), was the first 24-hour Bengali-language movie channel. Even though the older Sony Aath — Sony Pictures Networks’ only regional-language channel until 2018, when Sony Marathi was launched — is technically classified as a movie channel, it has always been more of a hybrid entertainment-cum-movie channel with a number of series and cartoon shows plus the occasional movie. ZBC was quick to premiere a number of movies that were otherwise shown on Zee Bangla, the flagship Bengali GEC of the Zee network. However, the then-Tata Sky did not add it until September 2013, nearly a year after its launch — along with a bunch of other Zee channels such as Zee Tamil and the then-newly-launched Hindi movie channel &pictures, which were missing from it until then.
Three months after ZBC’s launch, the Star network launched Jalsha Movies on 16 December 2012, which remains the largest Bengali movie channel by viewership. Earlier that year, in June, Star had also rebranded its main Bengali GEC Star Jalsha with a new look and the brand ethos of Chalo Paltai (let’s change). While Star Jalsha underwent another rebrand and graphics change in February 2019, shortly after Sun Bangla was launched, it has stayed true to Chalo Paltai throughout its existence — and, indeed, this was its theme song when the channel was launched in September 2008. Unlike Star Jalsha or Zee Bangla Cinema, Jalsha Movies has not rebranded even once in the almost-ten years since its launch, and its existing violet-and-pink graphics will likely reach its tenth anniversary in December along with the channel itself, save for any last-minute rebrand like what Star Bharat did in July.
Earlier that month (June 2012), Star also bid farewell to its Bengali news channel, Star Ananda, which rebranded to ABP Ananda along with its Hindi and Marathi counterparts ABP News (originally Star News) and ABP Majha (Star Majha), after they were acquired by the Kolkata-based ABP Group. ABP (originally Ananda Publishers) has grown from a Bengali-language print publisher into a major nationwide news media group with a presence across multiple states. Later in 2012, ABP had to shutter its Bengali general entertainment channel Sananda TV — named after its women’s magazine — which had been running for only a year and failed to make any impact in a market dominated by Star Jalsha and to a lesser extent Zee Bangla and ETV Bangla (now Colors Bangla).
Other Bengali channels such as Mahuaa Bangla and Mahuaa Khabar — sister channels of the Bhojpuri-language Mahuaa TV — also closed shop in that year, well before the Saradha Group chit fund scam hit the state in 2013 and led to the shutdown of several Bengali channels. But many more have been launched in the years since, including news channels (News18 Bangla, TV9 Bangla, Republic Bangla, Calcutta News, etc.), entertainment channels such as Sun Bangla (launched in 2019) and movie channels like Enterr10 Bangla and Colors Bangla Cinema. All in all, the events of 2012 played a big role in shaping the contours of eastern India’s largest regional TV market.
ZBC has always played second fiddle to Jalsha Movies — but both are well behind Star Jalsha and Zee Bangla
There are now quite a handful of Bengali movie channels from several broadcasters, both pay and free-to-air. From pay broadcasters there are Zee Bangla Cinema, Jalsha Movies from Disney Star and Colors Bangla Cinema from Viacom18, in addition to Sony Aath as mentioned above which is more of a hybrid channel. Meanwhile, from free-to-air broadcasters there are Enterr10 Bangla and Khushboo Bangla, which were launched in the past few years. Of these, Jalsha Movies is the only one to be available in HD, and indeed it holds the honour of being one of India’s first regional HD movie channels, when it was launched in April 2016 along with Star Jalsha HD — though this came over four years after KTV HD, the Sun network’s Tamil HD movie channel, was launched in December 2011.
As noted in our article last year on the launch of Zee Picchar HD and Zee Thirai HD, this makes Zee Bangla Cinema even more of an oddball since it is Zee’s only regional movie channel not to be available in HD — other than Zee Biskope, which being a Bhojpuri channel is not expected to have an HD feed anyway. Its other regional movie channels like Zee Cinemalu (Telugu) and Zee Talkies (Marathi) are available in HD. However, neither Zee Picchar HD (Kannada) nor Zee Thirai HD (Tamil) have managed to be added by major DTH platforms, and so Zee is mulling their possible shutdown in the near future, which will bring them on par with ZBC.
But the lack of an HD feed is not the main reason for ZBC’s struggles on the ratings chart, where even the relatively more popular Jalsha Movies is a distant third after the perennial chart-toppers Star Jalsha and Zee Bangla. The ratings chart has always been led by those two — with Star Jalsha holding on to the pole position almost continuously for over a decade (except on some occasions when it was beaten by Zee Bangla) — followed by Jalsha Movies, with the likes of Sony Aath, Zee Bangla Cinema, ABP Ananda and Sun Bangla playing musical chairs to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the top five.
As for the other Bengali movie channels, Colors Bangla Cinema does not have any of the brand recognition that ZBC and Jalsha Movies have built over a decade, while Sony Aath mostly serves the purpose of a niche channel with a predefined schedule consisting of certain crime/courtroom shows (CID, Crime Patrol, Adaalat) and children’s animation shows (Gopal Bhar, Nix, Nut Boltu). Meanwhile Enterr10 Bangla and Khushboo Bangla (which have a similar programming template as Sony Aath) have a limited audience, since they are not available on DD Free Dish — which in any case has a very limited presence in West Bengal, compared to its giant popularity in North Indian markets that has led to the tremendous rise of Dangal and Goldmines.
Bengalis watch serials and reality shows much more than movies
Movie premieres are not the big-ticket attractions on Bengali TV that they are in Hindi-speaking markets or South India — where audiences will flock en masse to watch mega-premieres like RRR or KGF 2 — and here serials rule the roost instead. It is not that big national movies like those are dubbed into Bengali either, which means that Bengali cinema does not gain eyeballs on TV as much as serials — which is further justified by the fact that Zee Bangla and Star Jalsha are the creative engine behind many serials that are aired across the rest of the country.
Star Jalsha serials like Sreemoyee, Khorkuto, Titli and Mohor are the original ideas of Disney Star that are later remade in other languages and aired on Star Plus, Star Maa, Star Pravah, Asianet, etc., leading to those channels topping their respective languages’ ratings charts — though Star Suvarna and the newly-launched Star Kiran are yet to taste that success, despite following the same formula. Similarly, many Zee Bangla serials such as Mithai, Bokul Katha and Ki Kore Bolbo Tomaay are remade and shown on Zee TV, Zee Tamil, Zee Keralam and other Zee channels, though they are not quite hitting the top of the charts, except for Zee Kannada.
ZBC has had to shoulder a number of movies — including South Indian dubbed ones — that Zee Bangla is often not able to show because of its serials- and reality-shows-packed schedule. The same has also been the case with Jalsha Movies, which has had to show most premieres due to Star Jalsha not finding the time to do the same, because its serials and reality shows are so successful that they are shown round the clock. Nevertheless, sometimes the GECs still manage to show a few movies, for example Belashuru, which was shown last Sunday (18 September) at 2 pm on Star Jalsha and at 8 pm on Jalsha Movies.
It is clear that serials are the main ratings-drivers on Bengali TV, in addition to non-fiction shows such as Super Singer Junior, Ismart Jodi and Dance Dance Junior (Star Jalsha) and Didi No. 1, Dadagiri and Rannaghar (Zee Bangla). Interestingly, however, Star Jalsha has paid importance to reality shows only after its February 2019 rebrand, while until then it showed serials pretty much 24/7 — barring the occasional Sunday afternoon movie — unlike Zee Bangla, whose non-fiction properties (also including Mirakkel, Dance Bangla Dance and Sa Re Ga Ma Pa) have been running for over a decade and a half.
Other Bengali channels have been only moderately successful, if at all
There are several other Bengali GECs, none of which have been able to come near Star Jalsha and Zee Bangla. Sun Bangla, launched in February 2019, has been moderately successful in the three years since its launch. Its formula of dubbed shows along with a few original serials have given it a decent amount of popularity, both on TV and on YouTube, as also seen with the launch of Sun Marathi last year. Colors Bangla underwent a brand refresh last year as well — launching a bunch of original serials after airing only dubbed shows for many years — but this has not translated into any benefits on the ratings chart, much like Colors Tamil and Colors Odia, which are far behind their respective leaders. Smaller GECs like Aakash Aath, Rupashi Bangla and CTVN AKD Plus have been around for over a decade — or two, in the case of Aakash Aath, a veteran in the Bengali TV scene — and seem largely content with their small audience; they have long given up on trying to compete with the big players, and have refocused their content accordingly.
Multiple refreshes have hardly helped with ZBC’s fortunes (but not for want of trying)
Not that Zee Bangla Cinema has been sitting quietly in a corner for a decade: despite its low viewership and lack of an HD feed, it is still an important channel in the Zee network’s regional portfolio. At least it does continue to appear in the top five in most weeks, at the expense of Sun Bangla, which was a regular top-fiver for some time but whose ratings have fallen since the second wave of the pandemic in 2021. For many years, ZBC has also innovated with telefilms under the ‘Zee Bangla Cinema Originals’ brand, and has won plaudits for the same — especially as the Bengali movie industry (called Tollywood, which causes confusion with its far bigger and more popular Telugu namesake) has historically had a reputation for innovative, artistic content.
Also, Zee Bangla Cinema has changed its logo a handful of times during its existence. The current sunny orange colour first appeared during its third anniversary in 2015, when it introduced the tagline Bhalo Cinema, Shera Entertainment (Good Cinema, Best Entertainment). During the mega-rebrand of the Zee network in October 2017, this colour was retained even as the logo now sported Zee’s new circle logo and moved to the top left corner along with all other Zee-branded non-news channels. The latest update gives it a more colourful appearance, and the glowing ring gives it a more ‘magical’ feel that resonates with its tagline.
This is quite the contrast to Jalsha Movies, whose violet-and-pink appearance has remained unchanged since its launch in December 2012 — making it one of the longest-lived graphics packages in the Star network, only after the English movie channel Star Movies, which has never changed its logo or on-air graphics since 2009! This may well be a case of the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality, since Star might not want to tinker with an established branding. Nevertheless, even comparatively long-lived graphics packages like Star Jalsha (2012–2019) and Star Gold (2011–2020) were eventually replaced, so one can only hope that Disney Star updates the graphics of Jalsha Movies and Star Movies in due course. Other table-toppers like Star Pravah, Star Maa and Asianet have also renewed their look from time to time.
Bengali TV remains very much a duopoly for the most part
Throughout the course of this write-up, it has emerged that the craze for cinema that has gripped other states through channels like Goldmines is still far from shaking up the Bengali TV market, and Bengalis are content to stick with their serials that are also enjoyed across the country through remakes. Despite Jalsha Movies and Zee Bangla Cinema typically being Nos. 3 and 4 in the ratings chart, that ranking flatters to deceive, given their huge distance behind their much bigger siblings, Star Jalsha and Zee Bangla.
Even so, it is extremely rare for Star Jalsha to trumpet its numero-uno position through social media posts, in contrast to its Marathi counterpart Star Pravah, which never loses an opportunity to announce its latest ratings achievements. This despite Star Jalsha having led the Bengali market for almost the entirety of its existence — its celebrated its 14th anniversary some weeks ago — whereas it was only in 2020 that Star Pravah dethroned Zee Marathi, which was the dominant force in Maharashtra for a decade but has greatly lost its way now. Nevertheless, both Star Pravah and Star Jalsha have fended off the fierce competition in their respective markets, while Zee Bangla has not been as adversely affected as Zee Marathi and is rather happily enjoying its second-placed status.
Still, it is not like Jalsha Movies, Zee Bangla Cinema and Colors Bangla Cinema are standing at death’s door; instead, they have created their niche and are content with it. They have done a fine job premiering Bengali movies and showcasing the wide variety of content that one of India’s oldest and most awarded regional film industries is known for. Similarly, Sony Aath and Enterr10 Bangla have found their niche with crime, drama and animation shows, whereas Aakash Aath and Rupashi Bangla, along with the state-run DD Bangla, add a different dimension with their unique small-scale productions.
In light of all this, Zee Bangla Cinema’s rebrand on its tenth anniversary marks a significant milestone for this underrated but essential channel, and it continues to serve its purpose by spreading magic and delivering quality entertainment to Bengali households for a decade. Not every channel’s importance can be measured in the form of ratings, and ZBC is definitely one of those Bengali channels whose ratings and viewership are far outweighed by its programming lineup and purpose.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are the author’s own.
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